• The Pudong International Airport hosts a number of local and global airlines.

The Pudong International Airport hosts a number of local and global airlines. (Photo : Xinhua)

China’s biggest airlines are reporting that more and more passengers are wanting to pay more to reserve preferred seats in both domestic and international flights.

Ever since Hainan Airlines Co. Ltd. became the first major Chinese carrier to offer reservations for seat selection for long-haul flights in May 2013, the option has now become so popular with passengers that the country's other top airlines have followed suit, the China Daily newspaper reported on Thursday.

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"It may be a new phenomenon for Chinese commercial airlines to charge extra for a particular seat, but it is common industry practice globally, especially on budget airlines," the paper quoted Mao Yi, public relations chief at Shanghai-based low-budget carrier Spring Airlines Co., as saying.

Spring Airlines began offering paid seats as early as 2005, and over the years, Mao claims, that the company's customers have become accustomed to spending extra for a more spacious or better-positioned seat.

"It is only a matter of time before add-on products such as the seat selection services will account for a significant part of airline revenue," said Wang Zhenghua, Spring Airlines' founder and chairman.

Yu Nan, an industrial analyst from Haitong Securities Co., said that charging more in order to gain one of the roomier seats, which is often the front-row seats and those located near the emergency exit, is good business and helps bring in more revenue.

"I expect the service to become normal and more generally accepted," he added.

Officials at Hainan Airlines, which also provides booking options on its domestic flights, said that travelers can now pay to reserve preferred seats by phone 48 hours before departure and with some available for booking at counters.

China Southern Airlines Co. has also joined in the bandwagon by launching a paid-seat service for 12 long-haul flights on its website in April this year, with charges between 300 yuan ($46) and 600 yuan ($92) for a prime seat on the first row or near the emergency exit.

"It is likely we will expand the seat selection service to more routes in the future, but there are still no plans for our domestic flights," a company spokesman said.

Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines Corp. Ltd. started charging an average of 500 yuan in January to book seats on 12 of its international flights departing from Shanghai Pudong International Airport, although it expressed no interest in offering the service in domestic flights.

Beijing-based Air China Ltd. also offers booking services for seats on some of its flights.